Featherweight Shakur Stevenson, a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and one of boxing's elite prospects, said on Wednesday that he is just rolling with the punches of a last-minute opponent change for his fight on Saturday night.
Stevenson was due to face Duarn Vue in his first scheduled 10-round bout, but Vue suffered an eye injury and was replaced by the more experienced and more highly regarded Viorel Simion late last week.
They will meet in the co-feature of the Terence Crawford-Jose Benavidez Jr. welterweight world title fight that will headline the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday (ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 10:30 p.m. ET) at the CHI Health Center in Crawford's hometown of Omaha, Nebraska.
"Honestly, no, because I come from the amateurs where I went into tournaments and didn't know who I was fighting," Stevenson said of the late change of plans at Wednesday's workout for the media. "I was fighting random [opponents]. Never seen them fight before, and then I get in the ring. I saw them across the ring, and I won. I don't think it made a difference."
Instead of a featherweight fight, the bout with Simion was contracted at 129 pounds, making it a junior lightweight bout, an accommodation to Simion taking the fight on such short notice.
Simion, on paper, is an upgrade over Vue and by far the best professional opponent Stevenson (8-0, 4 KOs) will have faced.
Simion (21-2, 9 KOs), 36, of Romania, won more than 300 fights as an amateur and represented his country in the 2004 Olympics. He has only lost decisions to top opponents in former featherweight world titlist Lee Selby in 2013 and former junior featherweight world titleholder Scott Quigg in 2017. However, Simion has not boxed since losing a 12-round decision to Quigg in April 2017 on the undercard of the Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko heavyweight title fight at Wembley Stadium in London.
"This is my toughest opponent as a pro. I never fought an opponent with this type of record," Stevenson said. "I'm coming here, as always, to put on a show."
Stevenson, a 21-year-old southpaw from Newark, New Jersey, has been asking to have his opposition ramped up and wanted to be on the undercard of the Crawford fight because of how much he looks up to him.
"I love the fact that I get to fight on Bud's undercard, and he's the main event and I'm the co-main event," he said. "I'm ready to open the show."
Top Rank chairman Bob Arum said if Stevenson is going to fight in a televised co-feature he has to face a legitimate opponent, whether it was Vue or Simion.
"Shakur is a young guy and he still hasn't put on the muscle I'd like him to have, but he will as he gets older," Arum said. "He has to mature. He wants to run before he walks. All these [young] guys keep pushing. But this is going to be the toughest guy Shakur has fought. He's a serious opponent. It could possibly be a better fight than the original one.
"This is the tug of war we have between these young fighters and myself and the matchmakers. We have people who know how to develop a fighter and the kid who knows he's good. It's like a wild young horse. You have to hold him back sometimes."